Evergreens for Christmas Trees

The holiday season is upon us. It is at this time of the year that we begin to decorate our homes for the holidays. One of my favorite holiday decorations is the Christmas Tree. This plant of the month article will not focus on one specific plant, but the many different types of trees that we use for Christmas trees in the United States.

About Christmas Trees

Christmas Trees came to the United States in 1747, when people in Pennsylvania decorated wooded pyramids with evergreen branches and candles. By 1850, decorated Christmas trees were a widely used tradition in America.  The first retail tree market was in New York in 1851 and the first President of the United States to put up a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin Pierce in 1856.  The first national Christmas tree was put up in 1923 on the lawn of the White House by President Calvin Coolidge. These facts came from the University of Illinois Extension.

It takes about 7 years for a Christmas tree farmer to grow his or her trees from seedlings to retail sale height, which is about 6 feet, according to the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association. They also say that for every real Christmas tree harvested, 2-3 seedlings are planted in its place. This helps to ensure future years of tree sales and tree replacement is always a good practice.

Christmas Tree Choices

There are many different tree species you can choose from for your family’s enjoyment through the Holiday season. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees in Nebraska include: Balsam Fir, Concolor Fir, Douglas-Fir, Fraser Fir, Blue Spruce, Scotch Pine, and White Pine. Before leaving to go pick out your tree, it might be a good idea to measure the area of the room where the tree will be placed to ensure you get a tree that fits in the room.

Balsam Firs, Abies balsamea, are often used as Christmas trees due to their fragrance. They have short needles, ½-1.25 inches long that are arranged flat along the branches. The tops of the needles are glossy, dark green and the needles have a white line along the bottom. As a fir tree, the needles themselves would also be flat in shape. The needles are long lasting to make a great choice for a Christmas tree.

Concolor Fir, Abies concolor, is also called white fir by some. This is a very dense evergreen tree.  This fir species has softer needles, which makes it a great choice for a Christmas tree. The 1.5-2.5 inch long needles are bluish-green in color and they curve upward on the branches.

Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, is the Old fashioned, traditional Christmas tree with branches that are great for hanging heavy ornaments, according to the Nebraska Tree Growers Association. It has soft, short needles that are up to 1.25 inches long. The needles are flat and blue-green with a white stripe down the center of the bottom side of the needle. This tree also has a good fragrance for in your home.

Fraser Fir, Abies fraseri, is another great fir choice. Again, the branches will hold up very well to heavy ornaments, like with the Douglas Fir. The dark green needles are ½-1 inch long and have a silvery color due to the white stripe on the center of the needle. The scent of a Fraser Fir is not as desirable as some of the other firs, but the color makes up for it.

Blue spruce, Picea pungens var. glauca, is the blue variety of the Colorado spruce. The Blue spruce can vary in the degree of blue or green color depending on the seed source. It has prickly needles that are ¾-1 ¼ inches long. The needles have white lines on each side where the stomata are, which are the tiny pores in the needles. Blue spruces have a desirable broad conical shape with dense foliage and great spruce scent for your home for the holidays.

Scotch Pine is also still used as a Christmas tree. Scotch Pine is not a tree choice we recommend planting in our landscapes anymore due to a fatal disease called Pine Wilt. However, pine wilt rarely affects trees younger than 10 years old and our Christmas trees are often harvested before the disease can affect the trees. Scotch pine is a favorite tree species for Christmas trees and can typically be found at any local grower. The needles are short and prickly, 1-2.5 inches in length with a nice blue-green color. The needles are held in a pair.

White pine, Pinus strobus, also called eastern white pine can grow to become quite a large, but for a Christmas tree, it is kept smaller and cut at a young age. White pines have 2.5-5 inch long needles that are in clusters of five, which is rare for conifers in the area. These needles have a silvery tint to them, in the right light, and are thin and flexible. It is not as dense a tree as the spruces, but the soft needles are beautiful.

Care of Christmas Trees in the Home

Be sure to keep live trees watered throughout the holiday season.  If they don’t have water they will dry out quickly and not look as appealing in your home decorations. When you purchase a real Christmas tree, be sure to make a new cut on the trunk of the tree to open up the stem for water uptake. Christmas trees rarely start fires in our homes, except in the famous National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. However, they do need to be watered to help them retain their color and keep your floor from getting too messy from fallen needles. It is best to place your tree in your home away from fireplaces, air ducts, and televisions.

Recycling Christmas Trees

After the holiday season, recycle your Christmas tree. There are many ways to recycle your trees that would be a better use than just taking it to the local landfill or burn pile. Many people take their trees out to local lakes to the areas designated for Christmas tree recycling. The trees are placed on the ice in the winter and when the ice melts in the spring, they fall into the lake for fish habitat. You can also chip your old tree and use it for mulch in your garden in the spring. These recycling methods will help you to enjoy your Christmas tree all year long.

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